For Karl Nutting ’14, the situation unfolding in Ukraine isn’t just a subject to explore and analyze from afar. He has a more personal interest, as well.
Two years ago, Nutting spent a month in Lviv, Ukraine, teaching at the Ukrainian Land Forces Academy. The academy was represented by Ukrainian soldiers from all across the country to whom Nutting taught English.
“Their opinions and sentiments all differed — from Ukrainian nationalism, to pro-Russian to indifference,” Nutting says. “I became fascinated with the power struggle of the cultures and ethnic groups throughout Ukraine.”
Nutting, who recently graduated with a major in English and a minor in national security studies, says two of his friends from that time have ended up on different sides of the conflict. One was a native from Kharkiv, and the other of Lviv, from opposite sides of the country. But he hasn’t heard much from either of them since the conflict began.
“The situation in Ukraine has remained in a stalemate for a while with the government in Kiev struggling to cope with the Russian-supported separatist groups in the eastern Oblasts,” he says. “Russia continues to threaten military action in the name of the defense of their citizens in Ukraine.
“The situation won’t have a happy ending for Ukraine, with separatist groups becoming more and more entrenched and more emboldened by Russia. The threat of civil war is constantly looming, and the government still hasn’t dealt with the underlying economic problems that started the protests in the first place.”
He says he feels that the United States has remained idle too long to be able to now act in a meaningful way in Ukraine.
“Unfortunately, unless the country devolves into deeper violence, the United States is unlikely to get involved,” he says. “This is a win for Putin in Russia, and further defaces the image of the United States in the world.”
Nutting says he has been interested in the region since long before the current events demanded this need. The topic was the focus of his National Security Capstone Thesis presentation this spring.
While he sees the need for the United States to continue to contain Russia, he says, “There is a fear in the United States that a push to contain Russian influence in the former Soviet Bloc will lead to another cold war standoff. What must be realized in the United States is that this is already the assumption with the Russian regime under Putin. Their current leaderships are all from the Soviet era, and the current feeling in Russia is that they have tried the democracy idea and didn’t like it.”
While he was in Ukraine, Nutting met and talked with members of the Svoboda, the political and extreme Ukrainian Nationalist party that helped incite the protests in Kiev.
“I experienced first-hand the kind of pressure and power that Russia had in Ukraine as well as the resentment many of the people there had to it,” he says. “After my experiences in Ukraine, I made myself more aware of the re-emerging imperial aspirations of Russia; aspirations that I feel are bad for the region.”
Nutting says that the events in Ukraine should not come as a surprise to anyone and that Russian history has been always about protecting itself in “a very aggressive and expansive way.” He says the best way to protect Moscow is to make sure that much of the land surrounding Russia is either Russian territory or nations that are controlled by Moscow.
“This has been a part of Russian history since the 11th century,” he says. “1991 was the first time Russia stepped back from this historical practice and tried a more democratic vision. Putin has now reversed this and is turning back to the normal historical precedence for Russia, which is why so many of the former Soviet states fear that Russia will try and reassert this historical control.”
Nutting is in the military where it is critical to have an understanding of current events such as the situation in Ukraine, he says. He recently was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and now is heading for Fort Gordon, Georgia, for further training.
He hopes one day to return to Ukraine.
-Jaye Alderson and Tsering Yangchen ’14, Madison, Wis.
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